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Business adventures

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This business classic written by longtime New Yorker contributor John Brooks is an insightful and engaging look into corporate and financial life in America.

What do the $350 million Ford Motor Company disaster known as the Edsel, the fast and incredible rise of Xerox, and the unbelievable scandals at General Electric and Texas Gulf Sulphur have in common? Each is an example of how an iconic company was defined by a particular moment of fame or notoriety.

These notable and fascinating accounts are as relevant today to understanding the intricacies of corporate life as they were when the events happened.

Stories about Wall Street are infused with drama and adventure and reveal the machinations and volatile nature of the world of finance. John Brooks’s insightful reportage is so full of personality and critical detail that whether he is looking at the astounding market crash of 1962, the collapse of a well-known brokerage firm, or the bold attempt by American bankers to save the British pound, one gets the sense that history really does repeat itself.

408 pages, Hardcover

First published August 14, 1969

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About the author

John Brooks

233 books216 followers
John Brooks (1920–1993) was an award-winning writer best known for his contributions to the New Yorker as a financial journalist. He was also the author of ten nonfiction books on business and finance, a number of which were critically acclaimed works examining Wall Street and the corporate world. His books Once inGolconda, The Go-Go Years, and Business Adventures have endured as classics. Although he is remembered primarily for his writings on financial topics, Brooks published three novels and wrote book reviews for Harper’s Magazine and the New York Times Book Review.

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5 stars
7,885 (33%)
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 882 reviews
Profile Image for H.E. Roulo.
Author 19 books23 followers
July 19, 2014
I had heard, as I think everyone else has, that Business Adventures was a favorite book of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. I read the ebook, and I understand a print version will be forthcoming in September.

This book makes me feel as though I'm sitting at the knee of my grandfather, listening to wise recollections.
A writer of articles in the 1950's and 1960, many for the New Yorker, the author intelligently and thoughtfully steps through 12 events, one per chapter.

At first I thought perhaps I was particularly dense and wasn't getting the message. What held these stories together? Eventually, I realized that the author is not driving home a point, selling anything, or giving advice. His observations leave room for the reader to consider events, their connections, their parallels to today, the importance of character, and the question of morality in business. It was refreshing not to be told what to think.

I enjoyed the stories of Ford's Edsel, Piggly Wiggly, Xerox, Goodrich vs Latex.

The chapter on the federal income tax is particularly relevant, given the wide-spread debate about taxes and modern conversations about the 1%.

John Brooks' perspective is firmly rooted in the past, when the book was written, and provides readers opportunity for a sense of omniscience since we can consider ramifications the author himself could not be aware of, at that time.

Details may change. People do not.
Profile Image for Rick Rowland.
56 reviews8 followers
July 29, 2014
I had such a great time reading this book. Like I have said before, I am not an educated man. I only have a GED. But that did not stop me from understanding and enjoying this book. I learned so much and the authors style kept my attention locked. i hope you enjoy.
November 29, 2020
12 vignettes on very different business situations.

Wall Street woes, Ford Emodel issues, intellectual property litigations, FOREX, shareholding times, market volatility, corporate communications vs labirintine relationships... etc. Lots of indusctries and cases to observe: GE, Ford and Xerox are next to Piggly Wiggly and Texas Gulf...

Everything's a bit dated, of course. Still, the salient points of this caliber are never lost since nothing's new under the moon.
Profile Image for Heather.
787 reviews
April 6, 2019
Recommended by Bill Gates.

3.5 stars. The author has a talent for making complex financial concepts accessible. The essays on the Edsel, Xerox, and the non-compete were especially good.

Annotations added 4.6.19:
"The [Internal Revenue] Code, a document longer than 'War and Peace,' is phrased--inevitably, perhaps--in the sort of jargon that stuns the mind and disheartens the spirit...." (p. 112)

"I find that companies are inclined to be at their most interesting when they are undergoing a little misfortune...." (p.179)

"After apologizing for the fact that he had only a few minutes to spend with me, he said, rapidly, that in his opinion the success of Xerox was proof that the old ideals of free enterprise still held true, and that the qualities that had made for the company's success were idealism, tenacity, the courage to take risks, and enthusiasm. With that, he waved goodbye and was off." (pp. 196-197, on meeting Xerox in-house counsel Linowitz)
Profile Image for Skip.
3,351 reviews412 followers
November 23, 2014
Dated, slow, and failed to carry a common theme are among the criticisms of this republished book, which has been touted by wunderkind, Bill Gates. Sadly, the criticisms are all quite true. Most of these "classic tales" date from the late 50s and 60s, ranging from the colossal failure of Ford's Edsel model, to the vagaries of the federal taxation system, to the syndicate of nations that avoided a collapse of the British pound, to a case of cornering the market (Piggly Wiggly), to a case of trade secrets vs. free employment. The only story that I found interesting was the career and philosophy of Tennessee Valley Authority chairman, David Lilienthal.
Profile Image for Diego.
95 reviews21 followers
February 4, 2018
Twelve Wall Street stories from the 60s. These type of lessons are valuable to understand, but unfortunately not all were readable. I was still able to get the summary of each except one. I have no idea what nine was about.

Market fluctuations is about a three day dip in the market in 1962, of which was caused by the delay in information. Not exactly applicable today.
Ford’s introduction of the Edsel was a bust. This appears to be due to over hype and marketing at the wrong time, and going all in on it. But companies can make mistakes and bounce back. This story was a bit long.
Federal Income Tax developed out of the need to supply war, but was highly unpopular. It has since been modified to the point of complexity that only favors the rich. Trump now claims simplicity, but favors the rich and screws the poor. It’s only getting worse. Loopholes can be exploited by the rich.
A story about Texas Gulf drilling for natural resources in Canada, and the information didn’t make it to the media quickly. And the belief of how big the find was didn’t resonate with what the market knew from the first report. Also that only the employees knew the real story and was able to buy up stock. This lead to an SEC court case of insider trading. Not an issue today with the internet available and information updates are instant. This may be about practicing emotional intelligence by not rushing a public statement until all facts are set. Insider trading at the level of thousands of shares is a red flag when purchased directly after a major company strategic event.
Xerox unknowingly put themselves right in the behind enabling copy-write law infractions. Books were being copied and the situation became political very quick. Thus, the company became involved and more political. They turned out to be a company that also donates to their local university.
A company is discovered to have no assets and is illiquid. They report to Wall Street and JFK is assassinated that morning. The market is stopped. They basically spend the time to regroup and figure out what to do. They decide to borrow money and repay the customers that lost money. This would never happen again, not when it’s so easy to go bankrupt nowadays. And that Wall Street is the devils lair.
This appears to be a purposeful lack of communication about price fixing and violating anti trust laws at the executive level of GE. Conniving stories spinner as poor communication. Typical.
Cornering the market is when bears sell off and try to get the price to drop so they can buy low. Bulls will then corner the market by buying up all those floating shares and selling at whatever price they want. They flood the news with propaganda that the stock is bad. This was about Piggly Wiggly and it’s founder.
Stockholder meeting in AT&T with everyone arguing with one another in 1966. Then another in Atlanta for GE. Small shareholders want more say. Then another about Pfizer’s meeting with open arms and communication. No arguments between stockholders and managers. Evident respect. Chief executive personalities are evident in a public forum of this kind.
A man is approached by another competitor for a better job. Goodrich, his employer, won’t let him leave and threaten to sue him. This one is about the protection of trade secrets. Though one cannot be held guilty before a crime is committed. But could be investigated if found to have used trade secrets.
The US Federal Reserve holds funds for Great Britain, and if they crash or lose money, the Federal Reserve Bank loses. Thus began the defense of the Pound Sterling. Mitigation solutions like devaluation of the currency is explored. Cheaper to export, but making standard of living at home more expensive and cannot buy goods or import. The worry was it would lead to a devaluation of the dollar as well leading to world depression. Great Britain was not good at managing their funds and did not operate to grow, which can leave open for risk and loss in drastic times. Preventative measures weee taken and a crash was vehemently fought. Sterling eventually failed but they bankers that fought it felt a structure was established that made the crash less impactful.

I would skip this book. Not very enjoyable to read. Only a few stories were interesting. Recommended by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates but I bet they don’t even remember that.
Profile Image for Jan.
242 reviews3 followers
December 25, 2014
Business Adventures is well written, as John Brooks is able to tell these stories entertainingly by emphasising funny dialogues, and his generally great way with words. Brooks takes a human interest angle and describes the character of key people not just the facts, and thus adds a richness to each ‘adventure’. Essentially this similar to long form journalism today.

However, the book requires the reader to read between the lines and draw its own conclusions, as Brooks does not deliver read-made solutions or answers but merely describes the stories and challenges.

Some of the stories are more useful than others - my view on all 12:

1. Story of the mini stock market crash on 28 May 1962, shows how it is all about mood and trend in short run, rather than underlying economics of the market / firms.

2. The story of the Ford Edsel failure cannot easily be allocated to a single reason, but while I still think the bad name (not taking into account research) is an issue, it ultimately boils down tone thing: Product focus matters: The Edsel just wast a good car to drive, especially the initial batches that were reviewed by consumer magazines.

3. History of the US Income Tax. Interesting to learn its history (e.g. initially only raised in war times, and required 16th amendment as not apportioned to states). However, less insightful than other stories. It does however have some good evidence of progressiveness of the tax apart from richest as they can afford better lawyers and mainly earn money in stock (especially options) and can utilise charity deductions.

4. Insider trading case of Texas Gulf discovering a rich ore mine at Kidd 55 in Canada makes for interesting story. The company understated reports even though officers were buying shares internally, posing the crucial question: When exactly does something become official?
In this case, there was also an interesting angle whether the press conference or the information appearing on Dow Jones broad tape would make it publicly known. While the nature elf this has changed due to the advances in telecommunication, this remains an important issue.
Of course, the U.S. court of appeals for second circuit reversed judgment clarifying most stock buying in the case was illegal since knowledges existed since first drill hole.

5. Story of how Xerox invented photocopying as we know it today is mainly one of believing in the product. Xerox spent twice their revenue ($75m) on it until it worked, executives took payment in stock and put mortgages into it (and even got support from university of Rochester).
But it also offers insight into other areas:
Describes the impact of copying onto copyright and how some thought books may disappear; apparently some things never change…
Furthermore, there are lessons to be learned about the executives attitude to not taking stock movements too seriously, and the challenge of keeping company culture during rapid growth (e.g. becoming more impersonal when lot of new employees join.
Overall, one of the best ones in the book.

6. Brooks outlines how Ira Haupt & Co are likely going to go bankrupt because of forged collateral by one of its clients, and the stock exchange works with banks to bail them out. Not hugely insightful, but has interesting parallels to the situation of Long Term Capital Management roughly 40 years later, down to the bank negotiations and people taking hold of floors in exchange buildings (even though the reasons each firm finds itself in precarious situation are very different indeed).

7. Highly interesting insight into the challenges of corporate communication, told through the case of price fixing in electrical equipment, with a focus on GE. Shows that stating price fixing isn't allowed in company handbook isn't enough if there is culture of it (such as executives using winks to show they’re not serious about it), and consistency of message is also key: Even if staff is admonished by senior person (here the CEO Paxton) not to do price fix, others may communicate something different, and ultimately a senior person may simply not be told (like Paxton wasn’t - apparently).
Additionally, if you don't believe message you’re communicating, that will come across.

8. Clarence Saunders, founder of Piggly Wiggly stores, tried to corner short sellers but failed since exchange halted trading and extended call for stock by five days. Not particularly insightful, though it brings home the point to 'Don't try to beat Wall Street at their own game’.
The story does however contain a few interesting nuggets, such as Saunders founding the first supermarkets with Piggly Wiggly, as they were self service; and his attempts to further streamline the service when founding chains Keedoozle and Foodelectric. In the latter, customers used a key to tabulate what they wanted from showroom, and then collect it - which shows that Saunders was years ahead, as this is similar to companies such as Argos today.

9. A very narrow story about an individual, and thus rather limited: Lilienthal, previously a high ranking government employee (in charge of Tennessee Valley Authority and then chairman of Atomic Energy Commission - AEC), talking about how fulfilling running a Company is, but also the risks to getting lost in it; as well as the balance between being involved in detail but keeping far enough away to think strategically also.

10. Brooks describes visiting various stockholder meetings - entertaining but limited learning: Maybe that professional stockholders like to profile themselves, and CEOs can sue that in annual meetings, as smaller stockholders tend to be more likely to support management.

11. Brooks illustrates the issue of trade secrets using the case of Wohlgemut - an engineer working sued upon switching jobs from Goodrich to Latex Corporation, as both were making space suits and Goodrich thought they would lose trade secrets. Court ultimately decided he can switch jobs, but injunction against revealing trade secrets.

12. Great story of Black Friday, but a poor economic take on fixed currency, especially the Pound Sterling. The pound was fixed to dollar as a result of Bretton Woods agreement of 1944, while the dollar was fixed to gold.
Pressure from speculation and companies hedging against devaluation finally results in Black Friday (17th Nov 1967) and devaluation of Pound from 2.80 to 2.40 on sat.
Unfortunately, since a lot of factors, such as fixed currency and a Bank of England not independent, are a factor of their times, it has limited insight for current policies apart form the power of free market.
Profile Image for Andrew Tollemache.
338 reviews21 followers
August 12, 2014
I give this one a middling review not because it was middling, but it is a 40 year old anthology of business stories and some of them are boring and dated...ie. tax changes of the early 60s, a profile of a forgotten New Deal mandarin and an inconclusive analysis of the Edsel flop. The other stories are really good, I understand why Gates and Buffet cite this book as a favorite. The opening chapter on the mini-crash in '62 and the tech/messaging/quote issues they had reads almost like a tale from today minus their Fred Flintstone technology--ooh a computer that can read the NYC phone book in 7 minutes. The mini-panic caused by a fraudulent vegetable oil trade that killed a couple firms and forced Wall Street to pool its $$ to bailout innocent acct holders reads like a premonition of our Age of Bailouts. I also liked the chapter on insider trading in which SEC ruled that insiders trading on info they put out 1 1/2 hours before hand had not allowed enuff time for info to be disseminated, which is comical compared to the instant standard used now.
In all a breezy read once you skim the more dated chapters.
Profile Image for Vijay Chidambaram.
Author 1 book6 followers
May 25, 2015
I really enjoyed this book! The author has a real gift for making the financial world extremely interesting. Not since Jeffry Archer and Kane and Abel have I read an account of financial dealings that was so exciting! I particularly enjoyed the struggle to save the sterling, the corner, the life of david lilienthal, and other pieces.

Some pieces were kind of boring though. Sadly, the author does not have the gift of brevity, and tends to ramble on and on.

Highly recommend for anyone interested in business!
105 reviews6 followers
July 28, 2020
This book is not your modern "business" book. It's not a book where a trivial idea is stretched to 500 pages, filled with carefully cherry-picked studies on how well-known brands are successful because of your great idea. There is none of it.

It tells 12 stories about the business. They are very well written, and there is plenty to learn from them. I wish I read it ten years ago. It's also a favorite business book of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.
Profile Image for Jacob.
192 reviews9 followers
March 22, 2016
Yeah, more people have read this in the past two months than in the prior forty years. I'm glad as the New Yorker + Finance angle is a good one for me. While reading I found the stories interesting, but didn't once think of them afterwards. Guess that's why I'm not one of the two richest folks in America.
August 11, 2015
A very dated book having an anthology of business stories. Some are interesting while others read like a scientific journal. Coincidentally, a few stories mirror real life business dilemmas!
Profile Image for Frank Stein.
990 reviews135 followers
April 12, 2015

This little-remembered collection of New Yorker essays from the 1960s surged into popularity recently when both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who, depending on the week or month, are the two richest humans in history, declared it their favorite business book ever. Surprisingly to many, however, this is not a typical business book. It does not feature the typical managerial bromides or numbered lists of MOST IMPORTANT LEADERSHIP ATTRIBUTES. What it does have are 12 extremely well-written, well-thought-out stories about disparate events, usually crises, often concerning finance, in business history. As the author John Brooks says in an article on the phenomenally successful Xerox company (appropriately titled "Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox") "I find that companies are inclined to be at their most interesting when they are undergoing a little misfortune." Not surprisingly the flubbed Edsel car merits an extended discussion. Many essays, in fact, focus on the public or legal implications of business mistakes, and aim to suss out the human impact of different policies. For instance, the Xerox article goes into detail on the legal wrangling the technology caused about "fair use" exception to copyright, and how the machine seemed to pose as much a threat to writers as the internet does today. There are few obvious lessons to be gleaned from the book overall, and the author tries hard to convey a narrative instead of a moral; those are probably the reasons why it may be one of the best business books ever.

John Brooks has an obvious affinity for intricate details and the importance of subtle differences. One essay, in fact, is merely a droll stroll through the history of income tax provisions. Another details the first real insider trading prosecution, of geologists at Texas Gulf, who traded on a potentially massive Canadian ore fine in 1959. Here Brooks describes the details of prospective ore drilling and of the changing rules of the SEC, and emerges with a confession of how difficult it is to draw a clear line about who or what is an insider. Another article focuses on the collapse of the Ira Haupt brokerage company in November 1963, little remembered today because it coincided with the weekend of the Kennedy assassination. Yet Brooks dives into the nature of the "salad oil scandal" of false warehouse receipts and shoddy auditing that allowed the company to go under, and into how the New York Stock Exchange made the important decision to bail out all the customers of Ira Haupt so there wouldn't be a run on mutual funds. President Johnson, on his first Monday in office, took time to congratulate the Exchange for averting a panic.

Some of the stories, such as the stock exchange bail-out, seem to have only grown in importance with time. There is for instance, philosophical disquisition on the General Electric antitrust prosecution, the first criminal antitrust prosecution in the U.S., and how hints and communication nudges could push people into crime while keeping the higher ups plausibly out of danger. There is also the thrilling description of the Federal Reserve's by any means necessary defense of the British pound from speculative attack in 1964.

With a focus on finance and financial flubs, this book offers a lot of grist for the modern reader, and, although every story doesn't shine, they are all both thoughtful and entertaining. I think that's why Bill and Warren love it.
Profile Image for Grant.
Author 2 books8 followers
January 1, 2015
Semi-entertaining read. Gates & Buffett have successfully pushed this book into "massively overhyped" territory however. Some of the chapters are rather boring, despite Brooks' engaging prose, which is often tongue-in-cheek. Best chapters:

-Texas Gulf Sulphur chapter... this was interesting, learned a lot about the SEC and was fun to read about how the Kidd Mine guys thought they were being clever enough to get away with what was obviously insider trading. Good work from the SEC on this one.

-Xerox ... interesting to see the rise of this important company, and how it was one of the first to adopt the notion of "corporate social responsibility" ... I have a new respect for Xerox now.

-"Non-communication at GE" ... definitely the funniest chapter of the book. The stuff about communication via winking is just gold.

-"One free bite" ... most entertaining chapter in the book. Very interesting stuff about the development of trade secrets law in here. Raises some interesting moral questions too - loyalty to a company vs. free will to make career moves. Was Wohlgemuth in the right or wrong here? I think compelling arguments can be made on both sides.

That said, the "Making the customers whole", Income tax and Lilienthal chapters were just boring. "Piggly Wiggly" chapter was mediocre, and felt the opening/closing chapters on the '62 crash and '67 sterling devaluation were informative but far from memorable. The famous Edsel chapter was just kinda "meh" to me... maybe it would mean more to people who actually care about cars, which I don't. Nevertheless, it's hard NOT to learn some valuable things about business from reading this book, although note that it is very American-centric.
Profile Image for Dipanshu Gupta.
66 reviews
August 4, 2021
It is definitely one of the finest books I’ve read. The author is a master storyteller of the financial world. It contains disparate tales from Wall Street to the labs of Xerox. Each of the 12 tales is unique in its lesson, though all are not equally enjoyable. The author refrains from giving any advice regarding the tales; it is indeed up to you, as a reader, to draw the conclusions you seem fit.

I learnt a lot during the course of this book and it has lead to a considerable increase in my esteem of business as a trade, given my profession is that of a humble academic and generally business people are considered the vilest among us for their relentless trail of money. I particularly loved the tales of Ford Edsel, Federal Income Tax, Xerox and Piggly Wiggly. However the gem of the book was the last chapter. It is about the attack on Sterling Pound and US Dollar by the French, who were uneasy with the prestige beholded by the two currencies and its goal to devalue and cripple the system that enforced this strata. It is certain the most tumultuous and exciting of stories I’ve read in a long time.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who has a budding interest in business and money. If you want to learn how the world works, follow the money. As a friend recently said to me, “The governments of a country have no power. It resides with Goldman Sachs”.
176 reviews12 followers
February 16, 2015
Great book. Since it was written in 1968, a lot has taken place. I wish each story could be updated. The author had a great idea in writing this book. He has written about 12 business adventures during the 60s. It would be great for someone to do a current day version of this book with more current business adventures. An updated version of this book should be included in all MBA programs. I really learned a lot about business from this book.
Profile Image for Maliha.
263 reviews163 followers
August 14, 2021
Putting this one on hold for the moment. 70% read. It's an excellent book 👍 but I just can't concentrate on it right now.
Profile Image for Edward Champion.
806 reviews29 followers
May 8, 2023
Read for research. John Brooks is a serviceable but by no means remarkable journalist. The twelve New Yorker pieces in this volume do offer a pretty good idea of what it was like to be a day trader or a businessman in the 1960s. Brooks tackles the Edsel disaster, the rise of Xerox, the fluctuations of the stock market (which feels incredibly quaint by today's standards), and how the Brits contended with debt and credit defaults. A good volume for getting the feel of the 1960s, but you're not going to get William Greideresque depth here, I'm afraid!
Profile Image for Alan Mills.
541 reviews27 followers
March 2, 2021
Odd book. It consists of 12 accounts of crucial points in the life of a specific business, or the world economy.

The good: The accounts are fascinating. The author is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, and writes with both a depth of knowledge and a feel for narrative tension that is unusual in business writing. The stories themselves are illuminating. For example, most people know that the Ford Edsel is THE example of a failed car that everyone points to. But do you know how it came to be designed? how it was named? How it was marketed? And most importantly, WHY it failed so badly? I certainly did not. Each of the twelve stories are similarly illuminating.

The bad: So why only three stars? The stories are VERY dated. The book was written in the mid-1960’s. A computer with the power of the iPhone I am using to write this review were the size of buildings. The dollar was still on the gold standard. Making photocopies was cutting edge technology. On Wall Street fortunes were made because a broker got news an hour before his competition read it on the ticker tape (today, such advantages are measured in nanoseconds, forcing firms into a technology race to build the fastest optic cables).

As a result, many of the stories which would have illuminated cutting edge issues of the day when written, now read as quaint historical artifacts of a by-gone era.

All in all, I found this book to be an interesting read—illuminating slices of economic history I had not know about. But if you are looking for a book with solid advice on running a business in 2021, I suggest looking elsewhere.
Profile Image for Albert W Tu.
33 reviews1 follower
January 8, 2015
may not be worth your time...

Out of print for over 40 years and recently resurrected(#508 on Amazon eBooks and #76 in paperback-and still a few days out from release) this book is cited by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates as their favorite book on business. I'm wagering this book will take over from Piketty's Capital as the most purchased yet unread book of the season and yet the difference in reading pleasure is so stark. Brooks wrote these essays nearly 50 years ago and you can't help but recall that Buffet and Gates are 83 and 58 respectively. The writing feels dated and stilted -- I found the much lauded Edsel piece exceptionally arduous but hardly an outlier.

This book is not without merits however. In twelve parts, Brooks does cover many timeless aspects of business from stock markets swings, to non-compete issues, to income tax, insider trading. The story of business, like any history, is rife with repetition and so contemporary parallels abound. The frantic efforts to cleanly dissolve the Haupt brokerage firm eerily resonates the start of the Great Recession and the final chapter on international coordination to defend the sterling in the late 60s reminds you of the last few years as well.

Still, I can't say this is worth the necessary investment in time.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,682 reviews345 followers
August 21, 2019
I liked it, mostly. Well-written but ancient (1960s). See mixed reviews at Amazon. Worth a quick look, if your library has a copy -- it's recently been reissued. Not sure why Warren Buffett & Bill Gates are so fond of it. But here's Bill Gates' review: https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Busi...
So you can judge for yourself. He first read it some 25 years ago (1991). Hey, worked for him, worked for Buffett . . . .
Profile Image for Gaurav Bhati.
34 reviews4 followers
February 5, 2018
Read this book for the joy of exploring old school style of writing and to experience what good business journalism looks like.

Examples are a bit dated, but the storytelling skills of the author make up for it. Author has a unique style of creating a Sherlock Holmes type suspense even while narrating business stories which most people find boring. The book was a bit difficult to read in the beginning, but the style grew on me.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 24 books1,324 followers
December 13, 2022
2022 reads, #56. Let me confess right off the bat that my score here for today's book is somewhat of a misnomer, in that I only ended up reading one chapter from this collection of long-form journalism pieces by famed New Yorker financial reporter John Brooks; in fact, that's the entire reason I picked it up in the first place, because I recently read in someone else's book that Brooks in this book does one of the best jobs ever at explaining what exactly happened behind one of the most notorious failures in American business history, the release and subsequent tanking of the Ford Edsel in the late 1950s, a story I've always been curious to know more about. And indeed, it turned out to be as fascinating as you would expect, especially now when we've long forgotten what the state of the automobile industry was in the '50s when these events occurred, or for that matter what the state of the modern marketing and advertising industry was in these years as well.

Basically, in the '50s there were only three types of cars on the market, known as the "cheap" one, the "middle" one, and the "expensive" one, with the rapidly expanding American middle-class expressing their newfound wealth by officially "trading up" as soon as they could afford it; but while Ford had a good-selling cheap car and expensive car at the beginning of the '50s, they lacked a middle-priced car, which is how the idea for the Edsel first came about. Unfortunately for them, a sort of perfect storm of problems happened on the way to the car's release half a decade later, including a too-long development period that misjudged what the future of cars would be (the Edsel finally got released in 1957, just in time for the big new trend in "compact" cars, including Ford's own Falcon in 1960 which quickly eclipsed the Edsel in sales); a wasteful developmental period as well, which spent way too much money on frivolous details (including having armed guards manning the doors of Ford's drawing rooms as a form of publicity stunt, and hiring famed poet Marianne Moore to suggest names for the car [including such hilarious options as the Utopian Turtletop and the Pastelogram]); what at the time was a brand-new obsessive reliance on public opinion polls and customer psychological profiles (one of the very first examples of a type of marketing that was to eventually become the national norm); too much of an attempt to make the Edsel the everything car for everybody (after discovering that most Americans assigned their own mental beliefs to a car make no matter if the car company wanted them to or not, the Ford marketers decided to get ahead of the game and start aggressively promoting the Edsel as the car for young people and old people and men and women and rich and poor and everyone else, leading to four main lines of the car with 18 varieties apiece, or 72 different kinds of Edsels one could ultimately choose from); heavily overinflated expectations the car itself could never live up to (among other terrible decisions that sounded wise at the time, the company made a national public spectacle out of recruiting 12,000 new Edsel dealerships across the country, keeping the dealers' sneak preview of the car under lock and key, leading a frenzied public to believe that the new vehicle was essentially going to be a futuristic rocket car in the style of The Jetsons); massive overspending in advance of the car's release (today's equivalent of over three billion dollars before a single car had been sold, including an entire million dollars on one single press conference on release day); and simply too much overconfidence on the part of Ford's employees, who in a glorious postwar environment thought they were the business that could do no wrong, assuming as the saying goes that if they simply built it, "they would come."

As promised, Brooks does a thorough, plain-spoken, and highly entertaining job covering the entire thing, including such delightfully snotty lines as, "Three days after release, an Edsel was stolen from a north Philadelphia dealership; it can reasonably be argued that the crime marked the high-water mark of public acceptance of the car." I imagine he does this in all the other chapters of this book as well, including stories about the meteoric rise of the Xerox Corporation, the Wall Street "mini-crash" of 1962, the history of the federal income tax, GE's Congressional antitrust hearings during the Kennedy years, and other such issues; but I'm so ridiculously behind on my reading at this point that I simply can't justify spending time on these subjects I just barely care about, so I simply finished up this Edsel piece and declared myself done with the book. It therefore comes strongly recommended, but with the understanding that this is based on only reading a small bit of it, with the suspicion but not the confirmed knowledge that the rest of it is as good as well.
Profile Image for Denar.
134 reviews18 followers
January 23, 2018
John Brooks tells stories that any business can learn from. Written in detail and entertaining.
There are 12 different stories that can be read separately as I knew most of the cases.
Profile Image for Matthew Cliff.
23 reviews
March 31, 2022
Bill Gates said this is one of the best business books he has ever read - he would need to explain to me how? This was a difficult and boring read. Difficult in the sense that to understand the content you would need a firm grasp on the how stocks and shares operate and boring in the sense that the length of some of the chapters were just insufferable.
Profile Image for Shreedhar Manek.
124 reviews80 followers
March 13, 2023

John Brooks was probably the Matthew Lewis of his era. Business Adventures comprises 8 financial and business stories. I skipped the last one after the first 20-odd pages. It was about the falling pound. Not that it wasn't an interesting topic, but after a bit I sort of wanted to finish it more than enjoy it, and I knew that was my cue to exit.

That said, most stories are both crisp and engaging. I especially liked the one about the price-fixing scandals of General Electric. (Executives there would tell their juniors to "especially not talk to their competitors," which those juniors would take as a wink wink way of saying exactly the opposite.)

Overall though I can see that Brooks set the tone for a generation of narrative-driven financial writers, including some of those that I love today.
Profile Image for Fred Forbes.
989 reviews48 followers
October 5, 2014
Interesting to see the mention of this book as a "favorite" of Bill Gates, given to him by Warren Buffet with a strong recommendation. Article in the Wall St. Journal mentioned it was out of print. Within days, miraculously back in print, complete with kindle edition (which I purchased) and climbing the best seller lists. The book's "business adventures" take place in the mid 60's and it was fun to journey back to those days when I could not have cared less about business and finance - provides an interesting perspective after 40 years in business and finance - especially with regard to well paid executives and engineers making an astounding $13k a year! Frankly, they don't write them like this anymore. Probably one of the best written tomes of a non-fiction nature in terms of vocabulary, erudition, grammatical precision and article structure that I have read. Some will find the long detailed stories on the role of the SEC, happenings in the currency exchange markets to be overdone, but for those with and interest it is a treasure trove to explore these things when the U.S. would still pay off foreign currency claims in gold at $35 an ounce.
Profile Image for Anu.
388 reviews60 followers
February 23, 2021
The biggest draw of this book is that it doesn’t turn every story into a didactic tale with a moral at the end. The fact that this is written by a reporter who lets the reader come to their own conclusions instead of force feed them a cherry picked analysis is a refreshing change from run of the mill business books.
Although dated, many of the stories still hold sway - the curious fundamentals of how trading works on Wall Street, the insanely complex and often illogical workings of the tax code and how it came to be, the amusing story of corporate marketing & branding through Ford Edsel, nuances of insider trading definitions, small town businessman taking on a mighty NYSE, the wonderfully nerdy workings of Xerox Corp (the original pioneers of the 1% pledge model), the endearing struggles of an academic in a business world that finds surprise success, the hilarious travails of running a public shareholder meeting.

Most of the stories were fun and enlightening but a few felt tedious. I wish there were a modern compilation in the same tone.
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